SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Sex workers and sex work advocates across the United States expressed concern Friday after federal authorities seized control of the popular classified website backpage and its affiliated websites.
In a message posted to Backpage.ca on Friday, federal authorities said the websites were seized as part of an enforcement action by the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service, the IRS and with assistance from the Joint Regional Intelligence Center.
Backpage is known for postings that advertise erotic services.
In 2017, the creators of Backpage were charged with money laundering in California and a Senate report in 2017 alleged that Backpage was concealing evidence of sex trafficking.
But people who say they work in the sex industry by choice argue that the site helps them stay safe.
Daisy, a sex worker in Dallas, Texas told CBS San Francisco, “it’s going to destroy us.”
She said the crackdown goes beyond Backpage, saying, “it’s all major escort advertising sites that are being affected, we are going to experience rape and violence.”
Daisy said “…the government is driving workers to streetwalking. you can’t properly screen a client in a back alley outside of his car. vetting sites that escorts used to screen clients are being shut down. this will literally get women killed and raped.”
In San Francisco, Rachel West with the US PROStitutes Collective, said the crackdown is going to push sex workers further underground and will make women less safe.
West also argues that instead of going after sex workers and the online sites they use, the government should be working to address the economic situations that lead individuals to turn to sex work in order to survive.
West said these types of “intense attacks on sex workers” are nothing new.
“We’ve survived,” West said.
Sex workers and sex work advocates are pointing to a larger issue, the FOSTA/SESTA legislation that has made its way through Congress and will give the government the right to prosecute websites that facilitate either prostitution or sex trafficking.
Sex workers say the legislation conflates sex trafficking, which is involuntary, with sex work, which is voluntary.
San Francisco-based sex worker and filmmaker Carol Leigh told CBS San Francisco that “Sex workers are exiled to underground survival methods” and that it is being “done under the guise of stopping trafficking, despite the protests of human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Freedom Network and others who recognize that suppression of commercial sex only increases dangers and exploitation within the sex industries.”
By Hannah Albarazi – Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.